Plagiarism Prevention Without Fear, by Scott Jaschik
January 26, 2010
Could student plagiarism actually be reduced? And could it be reduced not through fear of being caught, but through … education?
The evidence in a study released Monday suggests that the answer to both questions is Yes — which could be welcome news to faculty members who constantly complain about students who either don’t know what plagiarism is or don’t bother to follow the rules about the integrity of assignments they prepare.
While many instructors have reported anecdotal evidence of the success of various techniques they have used in a few courses, this study is based on a much larger cohort, including a control group. The study found that a relatively short Web tutorial about academic integrity and plagiarism can have a significant impact on whether students plagiarize, with the greatest gains (for integrity) coming among student groups that are statistically more likely to plagiarize — which are those with lesser academic credentials.
Further, surveys of the participants suggest that it was the education involved — not fear of detection — that led to the differences.
The study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, is by Thomas S. Dee, associate professor of economics at Swarthmore College, and Brian A. Jacob, the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Education Policy at the University of Michigan.
The two scholars used 1,200 papers written by undergraduates in 28 humanities and social science courses at an unnamed, competitive institution of higher education. Students in some of the courses received no special instruction on plagiarism. Students in other randomly selected courses, however, were required to take a short online tutorial on plagiarism and were required to complete the exercise before they could hand in any papers. Demographic and other data were collected so that students could be analyzed by a variety of factors. The tutorial was based on the Plagiarism Resource Site jointly developed by Bates, Bowdoin and Colby Colleges.